Proposed Indian day school settlement to leave out lawyer who filed lawsuit

First Nations lawyers who object to the proposed federal Indian day school settlement held a rally Wednesday outside the Winnipeg courthouse where the third and final day of settlement approval hearings was underway.

“It is a big fight and there are many people objecting because they want [the settlement] improved,” said Joan Jack.

Jack is now a non-practising lawyer, but in 2009 she filed the original statement of claim for the Indian day school lawsuit against Canada.

Today, the class action suit is being handled by Gowling WLG. The proposed legal fees in the settlement are $55 million.

In 2009, Jack had a small law firm with three other First Nations lawyers. She said that her firm’s revenues “dried up” over the years because of the time they invested into the day school lawsuit.

“By 2012, within three years I was bankrupt,” she said.

Her work is referenced in the proposed agreement, but it does not include her name. Jack has hired her own lawyer and they addressed the court as one of the objectors in Tuesday’s hearings.

“I’m going to end up being forced to sue the class,” said Jack.

First Nations advocate Joan Jack was involved in the beginning of the day school class action lawsuit. She said she spent years working on the case and has been left out of the proposed settlement agreement. (Lenard Monkman/CBC)

Eleanore Sunchild, a First Nations lawyer in Saskatchewan, represents 700 claimants from the province who are objecting to the proposed agreement.

“A lot of people felt that they weren’t heard in court, so the rally was to show support for the day school survivors and to show that there are objections to the agreement.”

Time allotted for claims too short, says lawyer

Sunchild’s mother was an Indian day school student and she said she hopes that former students are fairly compensated but she objects to the proposed settlement on four principles, the first being the timeline for former students to tell their stories.

“For people to get a story in, it would be a year after implementation. That’s not long enough,” said Sunchild.

Under the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, survivors were given up to five years to make a claim. There is an amendment to the day school settlement to extend the claim process to two and a half years, but Sunchild would like it to be three or preferably five years.

Her second reason for objecting is that people are expected to fill out legal forms on their own.

“It’s really being promoted as a paper process,” said Sunchild.

“Many Indian day school students didn’t receive a meaningful education, and that’s not to say that they’re uneducated, but some of them struggle with literacy.”

Her third and fourth reasons are that the compensation amounts are lower than what residential students received and the lack of an appeal process.

“In my opinion, compensation should be equal because the abuses were the same,” she said.

No ‘base payment’

The proposed day school settlement offers people who attended a range of payments between $10,000 and $200,000, based on abuse suffered.

“There is no base payment, it’s just a payment of level one to level five. People are misunderstanding that $10,000 is a base payment and it’s not,” said Sunchild.

“If people apply for any of the levels and they’re denied, there is no appeal process.”

In the residential school settlement, survivors were given a common experience payment of $10,000 for the first year at a school and $3,000 for every additional year they attended. Survivors who experienced more severe abuse could apply to the Independent Assessment Process for additional compensation, up to $600,000.

The approval hearings for the proposed settlement finished in Winnipeg Wednesday. The judge’s decision is expected in in the next few months.

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